Sunday, January 4, 2015

#Farm365 Teaches Us the Power of Words - Use Them Wisely

"Words have the power to create and destroy." A fitting interpretation of scripture today in church, with a reference even made to social media and how we use words today in our lives, which are increasingly online. Are we creating or are we taking away from people's lives with our words?

It took no less than 2 days for a great initiative to showcase daily life on an Ontario dairy farm to turn into an all-out brawl between animal rights activists and farmers on Twitter. My emotions are mixed. I have utter respect and admiration for the patience and tolerance of farmers like Andrew Campbell @freshairfarmer and Julaine Treur @creeksidedairy who answer question after question without judgement or harsh words. Their ability to show respect for differing opinions and choice of words set an example for which all of us can learn. It's classy.  

They choose words which create a conversation. They are open and transparent and leave opinions to those who listen to decide on their own. They do not attempt to destroy the integrity of an individual or pass judgement on those who might disagree. Can you say the same for your social interactions? 

There could be any number of reasons people choose to be vegan. Those who do not fundamentally believe in the practice of animal agriculture will not be swayed or reasoned with, because there is no common ground between us. This group might be loud, but they are a minority. They don't represent the majority of the 98% of Canadians who don't live on a farm. (They don't even represent the majority of vegans, I suspect.) They represent a small number of outspoken, extremists. We find it ironic they demand respect and compassion yet seem incapable of showing the same to people. For them, they likely find our observation likewise ridiculous.  

This divide is immense, and the more we demonize each other (and I mean that both ways), the greater it becomes. As much as these activists judge us, we are also judging them. When we do this, we stigmatize everything vegan-related, and this makes me sad. I have friends who have introduced me to vegan foods, and they have been damn good. I like good food. I also think we could probably learn a lot about incorporating some healthy protein alternatives into our diets, if there wasn't a stigma attached to vegan. 

Then, what about the rest of consumers who don't share the extremist view? What do they think? They might not be engaging as ferociously, but they're listening. Are your words creating a positive and encouraging image of agriculture? Not just of what you do, but who you are? A few bad apples will spoil the bunch. Don't let the extremists spoil you. Choose your words wisely and if need be, choose to say nothing at all. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

2014 - Reflection, Enlightenment and Some Darn Good Travel

If I had a bucket list, this would be the year where I would have knocked several items off it. 3 "Wonders of the World" - the Taj, The Great Wall & the Grand Canyon; an EMBA and Ivey Scholar, snorkeling in the Caribbean, live-tweeting our robot start-up and commanding my own combine through harvest were just a few of the year's highlights. If I'd been flying with 1 airline, I'd be well within the "Elite" travel status, with almost 50,000 miles logged on the flights I recall off the top of my head!

Among these highlights, it was also a year of perpetual reflection and self-discovery. I struggled a little to re-adjust to life after EMBA, which as it turns out was much the same as it was before. The underwhelming interest of those around me quickly led me to understand that as much as education is important, until it is manifested through daily problem solving and thought leadership, it is not really appreciated. It was time to start putting EMBA to work for me.

There were a few more moments of enlightenment this past year which will lead to some changes in my life in 2015.

Opportunities to excel aren't always packaged as we expect.
In a society where we are heralding women for leaning in and encouraging everyone to find their passion, it's easy to fall into the mindset that your strengths are under-utilized and your talents fit better elsewhere, either in a different role, company or even a different industry. This may in fact be true, but then you better do something about it because otherwise, it can quickly distract you from being your best self at your job today. We all know the first step in getting promoted is performing well in your current role. I knew this, but I got a wake up call this year, when I realized I was so focused on what I thought I should be doing, I was missing great opportunities to leverage my strengths to get the results I needed in my current role.

Listening takes work & I suck at it.
At 31 years of age, I have realized I don't listen very well. I don't mean all the time, but certainly when it comes to conversations about food and farming, it would serve me better to ask more questions and listen more. Directly related to my last post, I've realized I don't take as much away from these conversations as I could if sought others opinions more often. My personal development goal this year will be developing my listening skills to have more meaningful conversations. Advice here welcome!

It's My Turn.
After 6 months of self-reflection and trying to discover exactly where my talents were needed, I've discovered what I'm particularly passionate about and also how I can make a difference. As it turns out, it isn't just 'one thing' and maybe that is appropriate; I thrive on the variety and believing I'm making a difference in many different facets of the ag industry. This year, the priorities on which I've chose to are not just going to allow me to apply my strengths and develop some new skills, but I'm going to 'kick things into higher gear' and start creating more meaningful value. Stay tuned! More to come..

Shake it Off.
A trusted co-worker joked recently T Swift's "Shake it off" should be my theme song in 2015. Turns out, it wasn't really a joke but a message; "life is good, don't get hung up on negatives, Jen". In Their Roaring Thirties; Brutally Honest Career Talk from Women Who Beat the Youth Trap, Kat Cole, CEO of Cinnabon, talks about how interactions with a jerk boss would "drain her emotional bank account", but her community involvement gave her an opportunity to 'refill' it. This balance or offsetting of the highs and lows of my community involvement, family and work life is exactly what has allowed me to stay sane through what seems like a ridiculous schedule. Sometimes it's easy to diminish the highs though, and my challenge in 2015 will be to celebrate these wins more and shake off the lows faster.

Hope you have a moment to reflect on your 2014 and wishing you all the best in 2015!